Homilies – February 2016
THE GOLDEN RULE –
A SOLIDARITY ETHIC WE CAN ALL SHARE
TUESDAY, 2nd FEBRUARY 2016
OPENING OF THE PARLIAMENTARY YEAR
WESLEY UNITING CHURCH, FORREST
EXODUS 13:17-22, PHILIPPIANS 4:4-9, MATTHEW 7:7-12
The Gospel today, as we gather on the first morning of the Federal Parliamentary Year 2016, is commonly called “the Golden Rule.” “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” In one form or another it is found in every major religion on the earth. It is a kind of universal ethic that people of any religion, or perhaps even no religion at all, might well agree upon.
In a world of galloping diversity, to find the gold nugget of a universal solidarity ethic, is indeed, a “Eureka” moment!
Regarding world religions today, this “Golden Rule” is something we can all sign up to. It is a universal ethic we all must commit to. Religious fundamentalism of any kind, is a breeding ground for unspeakable violence – it is the total absence of the Golden Rule. But when embraced, the Golden Rule acts as the glue of fraternal solidarity in communities. It can breed invincible bridges of justice and mercy. Each religion would espouse a particular transcendent dimension that would give motivation and intentionality to the daily living out practically of this Golden Rule.
Both these dimensions are surely needed. An exaggerated horizontalism without a vertical transcendence reduces the Golden Rule to a mere philosophical utopian concept. Sadly, it is unable to weather the storm of humanity’s self-absorption and inner chaos. It threatens peace.
Likewise, an excessive transcendent idealism without sufficient attention to the practical necessities of the daily cries of humanity, places us too, on a dead end street. Religion now becomes pietistic and cult-like. It removes itself from the urgent needs of the poor and oppressed. Likewise, it becomes a threat to peace.
For the People of God in the Old Testament, God guides them along the perilous journey of life to ensure that these priorities and right paths are protected. God’s loving kindness ensures that the people, as indicated in the first reading from Exodus, are led by Him alone. “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.”
Jesus describes himself as “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Christians, by virtue of their Baptism, immerse themselves in the very life of Jesus. This encounter with the life of Jesus is internalised in them. They externalise this Christ-life within by exhibiting, as Pope Francis would phrase it, the Revolution of Mercy and Tenderness in their actions.
All this presents particular challenges for leadership in Australia today, especially for our elected parliamentarians.
How can these motivating religious and ethical anchorages, presumed self-evident in Australia until relatively recently, be lived out today when an increasing percentage of Australians formally indicate NO RELIGION as their “religious” preference? Does NO RELIGION mean what the category implies – no religious transcendence of any kind? Or is it something else? Is this a victory of an aggressive secularism, either consciously or unconsciously, desiring the peripherisation of the “religious sense” in Australian decision making? What might this mean for Australia’s future? From where, will a shared transcendence therefore arise, if not from a religious sense? Could other non-religious attempts at transcendence answer the perennial questions of the human spirit – who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? From what wells do hope, forgiveness, mercy, joy and love arise? What implications are there for freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression?
Gathered this morning for our annual Christian prayer service for the opening of the 2016 Parliamentary Year, we carry these momentous challenges facing us in this fabulous new, but ancient land of Australia.
All of us have a role to play in Australia’s future, especially in relation to the first Australians, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
In a most particular way, however, our parliamentarians must carry special burdens of responsibilities. Hence our gathering now to pray for them, humbly and with respectful encouragement. In this regard, we apply to them, the wise counsel of St Paul to the Philippians, in today’s 2nd reading:
“Let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire.”
Let our prayer to God be also for Australia in general. Let us conclude by referring to the profound prayer of one of Australia’s great Christian poets, James McAuley (1917-1976).
In whom all nature lives,
Cast flame upon the earth:
raise up contemplatives among us,
those who walk within the fire of ceaseless prayer, impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence in this thirsty land.”
SUNDAY, 7th FEBRUARY 2016
FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
ISAIAH 6:1-8, 1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11, LUKE 5:1-11
As we begin 2016, we can gain a great deal of spiritual inspiration from today’s readings.
In particular, the gospel shows us the movement away from defeatism in our Christian life towards living a victorious Christian life.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel from Luke, we find Jesus calling the first apostles.
Before Jesus comes on the scene in today’s gospel, Peter and his colleagues, including James and John, are in a defeatist mode.
The scriptures have them fishing all night and catching nothing. How humiliating for professional fishermen! And there we find them on the shore after a night of futile fishing washing their nets.
This expression “washing their nets” is a sure sign of trouble. The very means by with they are to go and fish are not being used. They are high into maintenance mode. There’s a sense that they can’t go on, but they are just holding the fort!
At the end of that Gospel though, this defeatism is completely changed to one of living in victory.
The difference is their encounter with Jesus.
At the end of today’s gospel, they hear Jesus say to them “Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.” They are absolutely transformed in Christ. This most extraordinary encounter is not passing. There’s permanence about it. The scriptures say “Bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.” We are so grateful that they have done this! We can’t imagine the Catholic Church being as it is without our first fishermen leaders taking up the call of Christ and inspiring us over the last 2000 years.
Let us look at this transforming encounter with Jesus that has moved them from defeatism to victory in Christ.
It is a conversion through repentance and mercy.
There’s the merciful grace of Jesus himself. It is Jesus who takes the initiative in getting into Peter’s boat. It is the initiative of Jesus who tells Peter and his colleagues to go out and fish again. In this moment of grace and the big catch of fish that eventuates, Peter is brought to humble repentance. Just as when light brilliantly shines upon us we are aware of all our bodily imperfections, so it is with Peter. When the light of mercy comes upon him as grace, he’s aware of his own unworthiness and asks Jesus to “Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man.”
But Jesus, in the midst of their unworthiness, give faith to the early apostles to respond in the midst their frailties.
All of this has something to say to us today.
As we begin 2016, we can begin the year by living in a defeatist mode or through conversion; take up the victory of Christ.
I would like to offer you a little sentence that we could all well memorise at the beginning of this year. Here it is. When we live with Jesus deep in our hearts, we live in victory! (Let’s say that again).
Just as Jesus encounters the first apostles, as this year begins, we can allow Jesus to encounter us afresh in this Year of Mercy.
Mercy forgives. Mercy empowers. Mercy gives us all that we need to dispel fear and to begin 2016 under the victory banner of Christ himself.
Could I ask you to express your victorious living in Christ in four brief ways?
Firstly, Lent begins next Wednesday. It is Ash Wednesday – a day of penance and fasting and abstinence. Let’s enter into this penitential season fully.
Secondly, let us pray for others, especially those who find living in Australia difficult. I am thinking of our migrants and refugees. We welcome particularly to the Mass today big numbers from the Filipino community of the Archdiocese. We are remembering their important national feast day of the Santo Niño. We know this under another name – the Infant of Prague. It’s so important in the Catholic consciousness of Filipinos. We too, especially on this day, place ourselves in the shadow in that little Prince who is the King of the universe. We also welcome from the Italian community from the Venezia Giulia region of Italy. We pray for their war dead from the Second World War. May they rest in peace.
Thirdly, we pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Archdiocese. In these days, two young men are joining our seminary. Please God, both Eden Langlands and Adrian Chan will become future priests for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn. May many others follow them!
Fourthly and finally, let’s pray that adults, in a special way, come forward and become Catholics, or renew their Catholic faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA.) Especially as Easter approaches in the months ahead, this is the perfect time for any adult to come forward and say that they would like to be led in a more structured way towards understanding the Catholic faith. Perhaps there are people here today who are not Catholic or have been Catholics and have left the Church for a long time.
You are all welcome in this Year of Mercy. The merciful heart and doors of Christ are open.
Let us pray now in the Mass for all these intentions as we move towards the beginning of Lent.
SUNDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2016
GREAT HALL PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER AND FASTING
2.00-3.00pm ECUMENICAL PRAYERS FOR UNITY
SHORT INPUT BY ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
It is great to be here! Thank you for inviting me. We’re celebrating our unity in Christ and proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus together. This unity road is already started, but we have a long way to go.
But I thank you for inviting particularly me, a Catholic Archbishop, into your midst in an ecumenical service largely organised by the Pentecostal Churches of Australia.
We thank the Holy Spirit for bringing us together. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this moment.
I remember many years ago I once visited a Pentecostal church when I was a student. I was just passing the church and could hear this wonderful singing going on and was curious. I went into the church and before I knew what was happening, the greeters took me up toward the front of the church and placed me in one of the front rows. I was hoping to have kept a low profile, but this wasn’t quite possible.
Everything was going well, until I heard the homily of the pastor. There were aspects of it that really troubled me. For some reason he felt the need to make very anti-Catholic comments about the Pope and the Catholic devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I found so much of what he was saying was ill-informed and largely nonsense. I was sinking in my seat! As soon as I could, I left the church, feeling sad about the whole experience.
Yet today, you have invited me, a Catholic Archbishop, to come and give you some words of encouragement. What a great change has happened! Thank you so much for your good example of ecumenical endeavours.
We still have a long road in go in healing the wounds of disunity in the Christian churches throughout the world.
Recently, I met a young Asian student here in Canberra. Canberra has so many students from around the world at our fine universities. Indeed, she was interested in being baptised a Christian and was making a very thorough self-investigation of Christianity. But she had many questions to ask before any commitment could be made towards baptism.
She told me that she had read carefully the scriptures and studied particularly John, Chapter 17, where Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that all might be one. She then asked me, “Why are there so many Christian churches, if Jesus established just the one Church?” How true an insight this was!
I think we just take Christian disunity for granted! We don’t really see it as an obstacle to belief and mission. But this young Asian woman certainly made me realise the incredible scandal that divided Christianity, in regard to evangelisation. Rather than looking at each other, we should be looking towards Jesus. Jesus’ heart-felt prayer to the Father in the hours before his death was for us to be one. Yet we are still to fulfil this final wish of the Lord! It should bring us to our knees and ask God’s forgiveness. And also enable us to redouble our efforts towards fulfilling the Lord’s final wishes, even 2000 years after his first utterance of these prayers.
Finally, I want to express words of sorrow and repentance on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church over the years. Perhaps many of you have found the Roman Catholic Church in your Pentecostal Churches being very patronising towards you all. I am sorry for this. Perhaps some of you have felt that the Catholic Church has not really appreciated what the Holy Spirit is doing in Pentecostal Churches throughout the world. Your numerical growth is astounding! Has the Catholic Church learnt from you as much as we should? I’m sure we haven’t. Please forgive us.
I’d also like to ask your forgiveness for the Catholic Church showing a bad example to you and other newer Christian Churches in regard to the issues raised by the Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse by Church personnel. We are all involved in this. It humbles and shames us all. I would have thought that the Catholic Church, being present in the world for 2000 years, would show other Christian Churches good example in this regard. We haven’t. Please forgive us.
Let us now move on with the hour of ecumenical prayer in celebrating our unity in Christ and at the same time asking the Lord to heal the wounds of disunity.
Let us all proclaim together Christ as our Lord and Saviour! Let us start afresh to proclaim that the unity of Christ is top priority. Let us pray for our great land of Australia. Certainly, let us pray for our parliamentarians, let us pray for all of us, especially Christians. Let us pray that we can really make present the Lord’s prayer, that in all things, we can say together, “Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
SUNDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2016
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
DEUTERONOMY 26:4-10, ROMANS 10:8-13, LUKE 4:1-13
There is a fascination in Australia today about ancestry. On advertisements on television and radio and media, we very frequently hear about Australia’s increasing interest in where they come from. People are prepared to spend quite a lot of time and sometimes money on investigating into their families’ background here in Australia and beyond.
Interestingly, in today’s first reading and second reading, we are given another type of ancestry.
In the first reading from the Book Deuteronomy, we hear Moses speak about the religious ancestry of the people of God.
He talks about our father as a “wandering Aramaean”. He then speaks of the people of God becoming refugees in Egypt, when they were few in numbers and had very little resources. The ancestry continues that the people of God as refugees in Egypt become very strong and numerous. He then speaks about them being ill-treated and enslaved by the Egyptians and humiliated. Then the Exodus story is told and how we were brought out of slavery into freedom.
Therefore, dear friends, the spiritual ancestry of all of us here as baptised Christians is that we are refugees and freed slaves! Never let us forget this ancestry. We have been set free from our slavery and given a home of “milk and honey” by the power of God the Almighty One. He has looked upon our marginal status and mercifully shown us the path to freedom. This places a big responsibility on all of us in the way we act in the future. Especially in this Year of Mercy, let us remember that we have been shown mercy by God and therefore must show mercy to others, especially in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Secondly, the gospel today speaks of our spiritual ancestry. It’s like an ancestry of the heart.
We hear of the three temptations of Jesus after his 40 days retreat in the desert. Whereas humanity, as symbolised by Adam, has been defeated by these temptations, Jesus, the new Adam, has been victorious.
There are three temptations here to shortcut our humanity that God has given us.
The first temptation is to material things. The devil offers Jesus bread. We are offered food and an extraordinary amount of clothing and possessions. Of course all we need some of this, but we must know our limits.
The second temptation of the devil to Jesus is the temptation to power. The devil takes Jesus to a height and talks about the power that will be given to be him, if he worships the devil. Let us never forget that the devil is the great deceiver. He promises that which he does not have to give. Jesus doesn’t fall for this temptation. Let us remember this particularly in this period of the Royal Commission into child abuse by Church personnel. At its deepest point, I believe that this is an issue of power in relationships. One person has power over a vulnerable person. It is an ongoing challenge for all of us to live humbly and to use power as service and not as something that we threaten others with.
The third temptation is the temptation to be like God.
The devil invites Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the Temple, whereby the angels will take charge of him and guard him. Jesus replies, by saying “You must not put the Lord, your God, to the test”. It is that temptation for all of us isn’t it? When we take our eyes off Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, we tend to make ourselves God in someway or another. We tend to think that we have capacities that we don’t have. These are only of God.
We must throw ourselves humbly at the mercy of Jesus, especially in this year and in this Lenten season, and ask forgiveness when we have forgotten about him and have tried to replace God with ourselves.
So our dear friends, as we gather with the adults who over Easter will become new Catholics, we ask that God will help us to know where we come from and to know who we are deep down.
I thank the adults who have now become The Elect in this Mass. We pray for them and their loved ones and for all those who are going to complete their Christian initiation, with the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Eucharist.
Let us now proceed on this First Sunday of Lent to the Lord of all mercy, as we travel together humbly and in God’s merciful light towards the Easter sacraments.
SUNDAY 21 February 2016
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
GENESIS 15:5-12. 17-18, PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1, LUKE 9:28-36
The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting and alms-giving. These spiritual pillars have a very practical expression in our Year of Mercy. They lead us through this penitential time to the Easter mysteries.
Today, I would like to concentrate a little bit more on the prayer dimension of Lent.
The readings of today suggest that the spiritual dimension should animate all that we do in our Lenten penance.
Firstly, let us look at some practical and attitudinal aspects of prayer.
In the First Reading from the Book of Genesis, I find it interesting that the Lord took Abram “outside” and said to him “Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can.” In the Gospel today, Jesus took with him three of the apostles and he “went up the mountain to pray.” This is one thing we can learn immediately. The place where we pray is significant. We should try to remove ourselves from our routine and find a place perhaps at home or outside in the beautiful gardens of Canberra and place ourselves in the presence of the Lord in the middle of his creation. This is easily done in these beautiful long summer days that we are enjoying.
Secondly, there is the attitude of prayer. We always must have an attitude towards God of looking at the long-term, rather than the short-term.
In the Second Reading from St Paul to the Philippians, he speaks of a short-term approach that people can make towards God. He says that “they make foods into their God.” This is short-term, but in prayer we look at our final destiny in Christ. In the First Reading, God tells Abram to look up to “heaven”. And, even more importantly in the ministry of Jesus amongst us, he mentions the word Jerusalem. When he appeared with Moses and Elijah in glory, the Scripture says that they were speaking of his passing, “which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
“Jerusalem” is a key word here. Jesus gives a glimpse to Peter, James and John of his ultimate destiny. It is the destiny of suffering, the destiny of humiliation on the Calvary cross. Yet there is always the hope of resurrection and new life through the blood of the Lamb.
Secondly, there is the aspect of what is prayer. The Scriptures today give us the great teaching that prayer ultimately is an encounter with Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration is mentioned in the three Synoptic Gospels. So it must be of great importance. Our encounter with Jesus gives joy and hope. Saint Peter uses the word “wonderful” and the key word to prayer is found in that Gospel when the voice coming from the cloud says “Listen to him”. That’s what prayer is ultimately. It is a careful listening to Jesus who we encounter in silence and in solitude of the mountaintop. There is a lovely expression there towards the end of the Gospel where “Jesus was found alone.” Ultimately, we are left with Jesus alone. This is enough for us. This is what prayer is; being in the merciful presence of Jesus. But let us remember it always leads us to Jerusalem. There is not the removing us from our humanity, but the placing of our humanity and all its sorrows and difficulties into the hands of Jesus.
Finally, we can find a resonance of the resurrection Gospel in today’s Mass. Today` we have taken time out to come to the Cathedral because the Mass is a mountaintop experience. Jesus speaks to us in the Living Word. We listen to him. He feeds us in Holy Communion and the Word of God. We are then to go, after this Mass, from this mountaintop experience into everyday life in our families and workplaces. Here we will find much routine and even enormous challenges, especially in our families. But we are always reminded in this Transfiguration experience that our own “Jerusalems” are linked with the Jerusalem of Jesus Christ where salvation comes.
Let us be encouraged by the Word of God today as we now go on with our Transfiguration experience in the Eucharist.
SUNDAY 28 February 2016
THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR C)
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL, FORREST
EXODUS 3:1-8. 13-15, 1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-6, 10-12, LUKE 13:1-9
One of the great masters of the Catholic tradition regarding our devotional life, was the Middle Ages French Saint, Francis de Sales. One of his main theological legacies was the following. He said that the shortest ways to the love of God is contemplation of Christ crucified.
The crucified Christ is the heart that burns in love and mercy for humankind. We recall that mercy means “The heart that carries the miseries of others.” It is the pierced heart, which burns for love of humanity, but is never consumed.
In the First Reading today, there is a resonance of this central Christian truth when Moses encounters God.
The encounter is a curious one. The Scripture today says that “Moses looked; there was the bush blazing, but it was not being burnt up.” This began God’s encounter with humanity through Moses. The burning bush was the symbol of this encounter. It was blazing, but not consumed.
Christians look at this image and see the crucifix of Christ fulfilling this symbol. In the death of Christ we see the hint of the Resurrection (especially in John’s Gospel). Also, in the Resurrection we see the death of Christ. The two are inseparable. They are called the Paschal Mystery.
Over the centuries, different Catholic devotions have echoed this beautiful image. We have for instance, the Sacred Heart devotion. Many statues of the Sacred Heart have the heart of Jesus burning – on fire with the love of God and the love of humanity. In more recent times, we have the Divine Mercy image of Christ. Here we see the image of Jesus with different colourful rays emanating from his heart. Again it’s a dynamic image, like the First Reading.
St Paul, in the Second Reading, recounts what happens after Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush. He leads us through to the Exodus experience. Jesus, in His death and resurrection, burning, but not consumed, is the new Exodus for us all.
There seem to be two important dimensions to this wonderful image of the love of God burning, but not consumed.
In the burning heart of Jesus, we are called to conversion and repentance. When we contemplate the burning heart of Christ it burns away from us things that are not of God, deep in our heart. It likewise burns deep within us, an experience of Jesus’ love.
But when we come close to this love, it never consumes us, it never overwhelms us. It never runs out. We think of the Gospel today with the fig tree. Here the tree seems to have burnt up and is being consumed definitely. The gardener insists that the owner of the vineyard gives him another year to fertilise it and see what would happen. The gardener is a bit like Jesus who always gives us another chance because of His merciful love. He acts to help us to respond in our feeble state to the invitation of conversion. This is what we must do at Lent. We must allow Jesus to purify us of things that are not of God. We do this through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
In a particular way today, I would like to welcome the legal profession as we gather to pray for them at the beginning of the legal year.
Even this biblical expression of “burning, but not consumed” can be of assistance, surely, to the legal world. I would like to think that that which is burning deep within every human being is the natural moral law. This is the law blazoned in the heart of humanity by being given the dignity of God. Upon reflection and right reason, it enables us to discern what it good and what is evil. It helps to form the individual and social conscience.
It is from this natural moral law that also come civil and juridical law. Without the natural law, all of a sudden the civil legal world runs the temptation of becoming totalitarian. The natural law and the civil law must work together to produce a society worthy of human flourishing.
Let us continue the Mass now, praying for all those from the legal profession here today, as we now journey in this Lenten Mass towards the Easter mysteries of our faith.